Theresa Rebeck’s slight but savory comedy about running a restaurant stars Raúl Esparza as Harry, a hilariously mercurial chef-owner of a hole-in-the-wall eatery that’s become the latest foodie destination. A blurb in New York Magazine has praised Harry’s ginger lemongrass scallops dish, so now the customers are flocking to the place and clamoring for the dish.
But Harry refuses to make it anymore.
“I’m not feeling the scallops,” he says.
This infuriates his business partner Mike (Dave Mason) who works alongside him and believes it makes sense to give the customers what they want, so that the place has a chance of making a profit, rather than barely breaking even.
Caught in the middle is Rodney (W. Tré Davis), the waiter who must mediate between the hungry (unseen) diners and the obsessive culinary artist. Rodney is Harry and Mike’s sole employee – until Mike hires a high-powered restaurant consultant, Emily (Krysta Rodriguez), without telling Harry.
“Seared” was inspired by Rebeck’s favorite neighborhood restaurant in Park Slope, which, though innovative and delicious, shut down, unable to make a go of it.
That’s not what happens in “Seared.” Actually, not too much happens. There is some character development, a climax of sorts near the end and a couple of turns in the plot – one of which, given the hostility of Esparza’s character towards Rodriguez’s at the outset, should be predictable to anybody who’s ever seen a modern American comedy. There’s also a clear underlying theme of the tension between art and commerce. But plot, theme, and even character are not the specialties of the house. Two things count as the main draws. There is the rapid-fire dialogue, largely comic bickering, handled masterfully by the four actors, who are also adept at physical comedy. And then there is an unusual treat — the ballet of meal preparation that occurs right before our eyes (and our noses), using real food in Tim Mackabee’s working kitchen of a set. Esparza either had a day job that we didn’t know about, or he spent a lot of time training with a real chef for this role. It is a surprisingly mesmerizing experience to witness the long wordless scene at the top of Act II in which Esparza meticulously prepares and cooks a wild salmon dish.
It’s hard to argue that “Seared” makes for a meaty play, but it is certainly an appetizing one.
click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged.
Written by Theresa Rebeck
irection by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel, set design by Tim Mackabee, costume design by Tilly Grimes, lighting design by David J. Weiner, sound design by Palmer Hefferan, prop supervision by Andrew Diaz, a
Cast: W. Tré Davis, Raúl Esparza, David Mason, and Krysta Rodriguez.
Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes including one intermission.
Seared is on stage through December 15, 2019